Dora and I were stationed at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for four years, beginning in 1973. Our daughter, Karen, was born there. Cuba was under an economic embargo by the United States and so we were restricted to the base. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were severed in 1961 by President Eisenhower. The U.S. embassy in Havana was closed and Guantanamo Bay was isolated. We could take R&R trips to Haiti, Puerto Rico, San Juan, and other Caribbean locations but we never got to know any of Cuba, save what we experienced on the base. Over the years we would catch a glimpse through some story in a magazine or newspaper but we never thought the opportunity to return would present itself. Fast forward 54 years to August 14, 2015 when Secretary of State, John Kerry, traveled to Havana to reopen the embassy. Suddenly Americans could once again visit the beautiful island of Cuba. 

Our opportunity to return came in the form of an invitation to help with a regatta that sailed from Key West, FL to Varadero, Cuba, then on to Havana. The regatta is known as The Conch Republic Cup and has been run in the past with the support of the Cuban government. It is billed as a cultural exchange through sport. Attempts to continue the regatta in the 90s were unsuccessful but with the lifting of sanctions and the re-opening of the embassy the regatta was once again in business. Our job was scoring and so with great excitement we headed to Key West for the start of the regatta. The first race got underway at 1700 on January 24, 2017. We were on a plane, along with Hal and Sally Smith, Karen Angle, and Peter Goldsmtih headed for Varadero to be in place for the finish of the first race. Hal was the principal race officer. Karen was the executive director and it was through her efforts that made our trip and stay in Cuba an amazing adventure. Peter is the organizer of the event and has history with this event going back many years. The regatta is run with cooperation of Commodore Escrich, Club Nautico in Marina Hemingway, Havana. The first race is approximately 90 miles from Key West to Varadero, then approximately 85 miles to Havana. A buoy race takes place in front of the Malecon (water wall) in Havana, then another 90 mile race back to Key West.

Though the primary focus of the trip was the regatta, we had plenty of opportunity to tour and visit Cuba. Our first stop was Varadero, a resort town that caters to tourists. It is opulent, and expensive. In the hotel food is laid out in lavish fashion. More than one can possibly eat. All income goes to the government. The people working here don't share in its wealth. Our rooms were back away from the main hotel a bit, where we were you could see the Cuban workers coming through a gate one at a time in their street clothes. Once inside they changed into their uniforms. When their shift was over they had to repeat the process. Authorities were making sure they took nothing with them. One night we were looking at some fish for dinner at their buffet. The pasta chef called me over and asked if I liked fish. He would prepare us a special fish, no charge. Our friends who were with us, Dora and I went back to the table. About 15 minutes later the chef showed up with a fish that was larger than the 14" plate it was on. It was a good inch thick and covered in a beautiful and delicious buttery and shrimp sauce. Of course he was tipped very quietly so the cameras didn't pick up on it. The four of us could only eat half of it. We were stuffed. Varadero is a beautiful resort, but I was glad when we loaded up on the bus and headed for Havana.

Havana was everything I expected it to be. It was old, it was modern, it was run down, it was restored. It was simply beautiful at every turn. The city was clean, the people were open and friendly. We always felt safe. The iconic images of the Malecon (waterwall), the squares, the classic cars, and the Morro Castle did not disappoint. The Malecon is a popular place for fisherman and evening strolls. Getting wet is half the fun. Morro Castle provides a commanding view of the city. You cannot visit the city without taking a ride in one of the classic cars being used as a taxi. The food was amazing. Everything was fresh. It is either grown, raised, or caught locally.

Tourism dollars are already showing their effect in Cuba. Most of the money from tourism has been going into restoration of buildings in Havana as the government tries to bring back the glory of Havana. It is important to note, though, that the average Cuban citizen will never see real benefit. Cuban families are still issued ration cards and are given just enough to live on. For example, a person is allowed only 5 eggs a month. The black market is alive and well and it is how Cubans get the little extras they need to make life more bearable. We had brought gifts of baseball hats, candy, soap, and tissue, which we gave out freely. The gifts were always appreciated. With the permission of a father who was fishing with his son, Dora handed a bag of candy to a young boy. His eyes filled with happiness and Dora received hugs and kisses in return. 

The time came sooner than we wanted to return to the states. On February 2 we boarded a plane for our return to Miami.

We had an opportunity to return on April 29, 2019 for another sailing of the Conch Republic Cup. We were able to spend more time in Havana. Things continue to change and a window of opportunity seems to be closing. More restrictions have been imposed on Americans who want to visit Cuba. We continue to hope for another opportunity to visit. There is so much more we want to see.